During a recent conversation with my friend Betty White, we discussed how much we both have to be thankful for this year, but Betty also asked if Santa would have me on his "Naughty" or "Nice" list. I told her I was definitely "Nice," and she demurred when I asked her the same question. But it got me thinking. This year has been full of contradictions for Americans saving for retirement. With a nod to Betty's question and to the bearded guy up north, I have compiled my own naughty and nice list for 2014.
Naughty: Savings rate of most Americans. A survey from Wells-Fargo earlier this year drew gasps from many as it stated that 34 percent of middle class Americans are not currently contributing anything to a retirement plan. Nineteen percent of all respondents have no retirement savings. For those of us who have been following retirement savings trends for a while, this was not a shock. My company surveyed seniors three years ago, and we found that 55 percent said they would have to work past age 65. We remain a country that is ill-prepared for retirement, and many Americans believe they will never be able to retire.
Nice: We have time. Even though many baby boomers reach retirement age each day, most Americans still have time to salvage their retirement plans. New options along with the benefit of time can help many begin or rebuild their retirement savings. Boomers and seniors may need to drastically rethink how they plan to pay for retirement, but there are tactics that can help them. More on this later.
Naughty: Many costs of living are outpacing wages. While the overall economy is improving, many of the core costs of living are still too high for most Americans. Costs of groceries, healthcare, housing and energy (except until recently oil prices, hurray) have been rising at rates that overwhelm many Americans. A survey from Pew Research says the majority of us are struggling to keep up in some way. For example, 24 percent had trouble finding or paying for adequate medical care, 20 percent struggled to cover their rent or mortgage payment and 20 percent had a run-in with a collection agency.
Nice: Many economic indicators are rising fast. Despite some gloom on the ground, the economy in the big picture is improving. Stock markets are at all-time highs, the housing market appears on the road to recovery and consumer confidence, while still not great, is improving. What this means is that, at least on paper, many of us are feeling better about the overall outlook. The value of our home is probably higher than it was a year ago, with variances by market. Our stock portfolio is likely in much better shape, particularly if you invested in index funds with a "set it and forget it" mentality. And the overall value of many businesses improved, because if you survived the Great Recession, there was only one way to go -- up.